I am not one of those people who was born into the United Methodist Church. I wandered into the church as an adult, at a time when I was restless in my career as a lawyer and looking for something that would help me make sense of the world.
What I fell in love with was the story of Jesus, who seemed to possess some purpose that had eluded me. His mission: to unleash on Earth the power of compassion, forgiveness, justice, peace; to mobilize the people who followed him so that they would keep changing the world for good, even after he was gone.
That’s what the church is, when it’s actually being the church. It’s not about worshipping at some monument to the past. It’s also not about finding a nice group of people to spend Sunday mornings with. It’s about coming together to tell and hear the stories of the Christian tradition until they sink so deeply into us that we are compelled – like Jesus – to get off the mountain and turn toward the work of loving people in practical ways, healing them, hearing them, making the world a safe space for them to live.
What I learned to love about the United Methodist brand of Christianity is its knowing that faith that matters – the only faith that matters – is the kind that focuses your eyes sideways, not just up and down; that your religion is never just something private between you and God, nor is it mostly about saving your soul for the life to come. It’s about how you live now.
In January, Los Altos United Methodist Church entered into a collaboration with the social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka. Since 1980, Ashoka has been sending Ashoka fellows – “innovators for the common good” – out into the world to create change for good. You already know some of Ashoka’s work. Zipcar, the company that figured out a way to offer people without cars a low-cost way to have one for just a few hours at a time, was an Ashoka fellow’s project. Wikipedia, the online platform for the free sharing of knowledge, was started by an Ashoka fellow. In the 40 years since its founding, Ashoka has sent changemakers all over the world to partner with others and put in place their ideas for solving some problem or making life better for everyone.
Ashoka has always believed that the most important characteristic of a changemaker is empathy, the ability to see things through someone else’s eyes. “Compassion” is the church’s word for that quality. It means looking at the world around you, the people around you, with eyes filled with love, wanting the best for them as much as you want it for yourself, being willing to give yourself away for the sake of making someone else’s life better. Jesus was a compassion-driven changemaker.
So at Los Altos United Methodist Church, we’re pairing what the church knows best –stories of compassion – with what Ashoka knows about how to make change in the world. We’re connecting the path of following Jesus with the skills of social innovation. We’re empowering people, young and old, to make an impact wherever they work and go to school and serve in the community.
This is the next step in the kind of compassion-driven work this church has been doing for a long time – projects such as Compassion Week (Sept. 23-30 this year), Hope’s Corner in Mountain View and the Children’s Center.
Our Ashoka partners will be here Aug. 24 to discuss why it’s important to encourage every child to become a changemaker. Please join us 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. To register, visit bit.ly/reimagineparenting.
The Rev. Kathi McShane is senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church. For more information, visit laumc.org.